2018 Solo 401(k) Contribution Steps, Deadlines, and Rules

Image of a red thumbtack on the December 31 date of a calendar.As 2018 comes to an end, it is critical that Solo 401(k) owners understand when and how to make their 2018 contributions. There are three important deadlines you must know if you have a Solo 401(k) or if you plan to set one up still in 2018. A Solo 401(k) is a retirement plan for small business owners or self-employed persons who have no other full time employees other than owners and spouses. It’s a great plan that can be self-directed into real estate, LLCs, or other alternative investments, and allows the owner/participants to contribute up to $55,000 per year (far faster than any IRA).

New Solo 401(k) Set-Up Deadline is 12/31/18

First, in order to make 2018 contributions, the Solo 401(k) must be adopted by your business by December 31st, 2018. If you haven’t already adopted a Solo 401(k) plan, you should start now so that documents can be completed and filed in time. If the 401(k) is established on January 1st, 2019 or later, you cannot make 2018 contributions.

2018 Contributions Can Be Made in 2019

Both employee and employer contributions can be made up until the company’s tax return deadline including extensions. If you have a sole proprietorship (e.g. single member LLC or schedule C income) or C-Corporation, then the company tax return deadline is April 15th, 2018. If you have an S-Corporation or partnership LLC, the deadline for 2018 contributions is March 15th, 2019. Both of these deadlines (March 15th and April 15th) to make 2018 contributions may be extended another six months by filing an extension. This a huge benefit for those that want to make 2018 contributions, but won’t have funds until later in the year to do so.

W-2’s Force You to Plan Now

While employee and employer contributions may be extended until the company tax return deadline, you will typically need to file a W-2 for your wages (e.g. an S-Corporation) by January 31st, 2019. The W-2 will include your wage income and any deduction for employee retirement plan contributions will be reduced on the W-2 in box 12. As a result, you should make your employee contributions (up to $18,500 for 2018) by January 31st, 2019 or you should at least determine the amount you plan to contribute so that you can file an accurate W-2 by January 31st, 2019. If you don’t have all or a portion of the funds you plan to contribute available by the time your W-2 is due, you can set the amount you plan to contribute to the 401(k) as an employee contribution, and will then need to make said contribution by the tax return deadline (including extensions).

Example

Now let’s bring this all together and take an example to outline how this may work. Sally is 44 years old and has an S-Corporation as an online business. She is the only owner and only employee, and had a Solo 401(k) established in 2018. She has $120,000 in net income for the year and will have taken $50,000 of that in wage income that will go on her W-2 for the year. That will leave $70,000 of profit that is taxable to her and that will come through to her personally via a K-1 from the business. Sally has not yet made any 2018 401(k) contributions, but plans to do so in order to reduce her taxable income for the year and to build a nest egg for retirement. If she decided to max-out her 2018 Solo 401(k) contributions, it would look like this:

  1. Employee Contributions – The 2018 maximum employee contribution is $18,500. This is dollar for dollar on wages so you can contribute $18,500 as long as you have made $18,500. Since Sally has $50,000 in wages from her S-Corp, she can easily make an $18,500 employee contribution. Let’s say that Sally doesn’t have the $18,500 to contribute, but will have it available by the tax return deadline (including extensions). What Sally will need to do is let her accountant or payroll company know what she plans to contribute as an employee contribution so that they can properly report the contributions on her payroll and W-2 reporting. By making an $18,500 employee contribution, Sally has reduced her taxable income on her W-2 from $50,000 to $31,500. At even a 20% tax bracket for federal taxes and a 5% tax bracket for state taxes that comes to a tax savings of $4,625.
  1. Employer Contributions – The 2018 maximum employer contribution is 25% of wage compensation. For Sally: Up to a maximum employer contribution of $36,500. Since Sally has taken a W-2 wage of $50,000, the company may make an employer contribution of $12,500 (25% of $50,000). This contribution is an expense to the company and is included as an employee benefit expense on the S-Corporation’s tax return (form 1120S). In the stated example, Sally would’ve had $70,000 in net profit/income from the company before making the Solo 401(k) contribution. After making the employer matching contribution of $12,500 in this example, Sally would then only receive a K-1 and net income/profit from the S-Corporation of $57,500. Again, if she were in a 20% federal and a 5% state tax bracket, that would create a tax savings of $3,125. This employer contribution would need to be made by March 15th, 2019 (the company return deadline) or by September 15th, 2019 if the company were to file an extension.

In the end, Sally would have contributed and saved $31,000 for retirement ($18,500 employee contribution, $12,500 employer contribution). And she would have saved approximately $7,750 in federal and state taxes. That’s a win-win.

Keep in mind, you need to start making plans now and you want to begin coordinating with your accountant or payroll company as your yearly wage information on your W-2 (self employment income for sole props) is critical in determining what you can contribute to your Solo 401(k). Also, make certain you have the plan set-up in 2018 if you plan to make 2018 contributions. While IRAs can be established until April 15th, 2019 for 2018 contributions, a Solo K must be established by December 31st, 2018. Don’t get the two confused, and make sure you’ve got a plan for your specific business.

Note: If you’ve got a single member LLC taxed as a sole proprietorship, or just an old-fashioned sole prop, or even or an LLC taxed as a partnership (where you don’t have a W-2), then please refer to our prior article here on how to calculate your Solo K contributions as they differ slightly from the s-corp example above.

The IRS Says That You Can Contribute More to Your IRA and 401(k) in 2019

Late last week, the IRS announced increased contribution limits for IRAs, 401(k)s and other retirement plans. IRAs have been stuck at $5,500 since 2013, but are finally moving up to $6,000 starting in 2019. If you save in a 401(k), including a Solo K, the good news is that your contribution limits were increased too, with employee contributions increasing from $18,500 to $19,000 and total 401(k) contributions (employee and employer) reaching $56,000. The IRS announcement and additional details can be found here.

Health savings account (HSA) owners also won a small victory with individual contribution maximums increasing by $50 to $3,500, and family contribution amounts increasing by $100 to $7,000.

Breakdown

Here’s a quick breakdown on the changes:

  • IRA contribution limitations (Roth and Traditional) increased from $5,500 to $6,000, and there is still the $1,000 catch-up amount for those 50 and older.
  • 401(k) contributions also increased for employees and employers: Employee contribution limitations increased from $18,500 to $19,000 for 2019. The additional catch-up contribution for those 50 and older stays the same at $6,000. The annual maximum 401(k) (defined contribution) total contribution amount increased from $55,000 to $56,000 ($62,000 for those 50 and older).
  • HSA contribution limits increased from $3,450 for individuals and $6,900 for families to $3,500 for individuals and $7,000 for families.

These accounts provide advantageous ways for an individual to either save for retirement or to pay for their medical expenses. If you’re looking for tax deductions, tax deferred growth, or tax-free income, you should be using one or all of these account types. Keep in mind there are qualifications and phase out rules that apply, so make sure you’re getting competent advice about which accounts should be set up in your specific situation. Lastly, remember, all of these accounts can be self-directed and invested into assets you know best.

Legally Raising Money for Others

If you are receiving a fee for assisting someone else’s company in raising money, then you must operate within the confines of securities laws. These laws provide three different ways in which one may legally raise money for another company for a fee. You can’t get a “commission” or “bonus” or anything of value for bringing an investor to another company or person unless you fit into one of these three categories:

Broker Dealer License

First, if you are licensed and are registered with an SEC registered broker dealer, you may receive commissions and other forms of compensation for raising money in public or private offerings (e.g. private placements).  The newest form of registration from FINRA is designed to license and regulate those who operate as “investment bankers,” called a “Series 79 license.” This license allows a holder to collect commissions and other fees for raising funds for an offering of equity (e.g. stock) or debt (e.g. notes or bonds). In addition to passing the licensing test, you’ll need to associate with a broker dealer.

Finder’s Fee

Second, if you take a limited role in the raising of funds and are paid a flat or hourly fee, as opposed to commissions based on funds raised, you may be able to be paid a finder’s fee for introducing investors to others. A finder’s fee can only be paid to a finder so long as:

  1. The finder isn’t involved in negotiations of the securities being sold.
  2. The finder doesn’t discuss the details of the securities.
  3. The finder isn’t paid based on money raised (e.g. no commission).
  4. The finder doesn’t perform “finding” services on a regular basis.

In sum, a finder’s fee may be paid but only to someone who makes introductions of potential investors, and the fee amount must be based on some factor other than compensation relating the persons or amount of securities sold to those introduced by the finder.

Director or Officer of Offering Company

Third, you may be able to assist in raising funds for another if you are an Officer or Director of the company whom you are raising money for. The SEC promulgated Rule 3a4-1 which is a Safe Harbor from enforcement and allows someone who serves as a paid Director or Officer to assist in selling the company’s securities. There are many ways to qualify under this Rule but the most common is to meet the following criteria:

  1. Be paid as a Director or Officer by salary or other criteria that is not linked to sales of securities made (e.g. be the CFO or Treasurer and offer financial consulting advice in addition to working with potential investors).
  2. Can’t be associated with a Broker Dealer and cannot have a prior SEC disciplinary history.
  3. Should stay on with the company following closing of the offering so as to show your purpose as a Director or Officer was not just for raising funds.
  4. Takes a passive and restrictive role in selling the securities and refers to the CEO or President for details and negotiations.

Failure to comply with the securities laws can result in civil and criminal action. In addition, investors who can claim a failure to comply with the laws outlined above are able to rescind their investment and can subject the company’s founders and the person soliciting the investment with personal liability for any losses.

What Trump’s Lawyer, “Breaking Bad,” and “The Godfather” Teach Us About Attorney-Client Privilege

President Trump’s private lawyer, Michael Cohen, recently had his home and office raided by federal agents. But wait, isn’t all of his information attorney-client privileged? If you’re confused at how a lawyer’s records could be raided, your instincts are right. We’ve all learned about the fourth amendment, which protects us against unreasonable search and seizure, and requires the government to obtain a warrant. But, lawyer records and client information is especially protected, and any old warrant won’t allow the government to search or seize a lawyer’s records. In the case of Trump’s private lawyer, Michael Cohen, the government was able to blow past attorney-client privilege by alleging and providing credible information that they suspected Mr. Cohen was part of criminal activity himself. So, what can upstanding business owners learn from the Michael Cohen saga? Well, quite a bit.

When planning your business and tax structure with your lawyer, it is important to understand what is privileged and what is not. Often times, clients divulge information to their lawyer and wonder whether that information is “attorney-client privileged” or not.  Attorney-client privilege is an important legal protection offered to persons, companies, and organizations who provide confidential information and who seek counsel from their lawyer or law firm. Under law, an attorney cannot be required to provide attorney-client privileged information to a plaintiff in a law suit (e.g. creditor) or to a government agency (e.g. the IRS) except under limited situations. Here are a couple of common situations where you may lose attorney-client privilege and some tips to make sure your confidential information provided to your lawyers doesn’t run into the exceptions.

Exceptions to the Attorney-Client Privilege Rule

1. Third-party non-lawyer present

Was a third-party present with your lawyer when the information you want to be privileged was discussed. For example, was your accountant or financial adviser present when discussing information you want to remain confidential and to privileged? Keep in mind that if a third-party is present in a meeting or on a conference call then that third-party may be required to provide information or documents from the meeting and that your accountant, consultant or adviser can’t raise the attorney-client privileged defense for you unless they’re actually your attorney. If a third-party professional does need to be hired (e.g. an accountant or CPA), that third-party can be hired or brought into the matter by the attorney and the privilege may remain intact. This is known as a “Kovel” hiring of the accountant, and stems from a case where a lawyer engaged an accountant for the client, and the accountant’s work was therefore covered under the lawyer’s attorney-client privilege.

Tip: For sensitive matters where you want information to remain confidential and privileged, do not involve outside parties as those outside parties or non-attorney advisers cannot raise the attorney-client privileged defense.

2. Only legal advice is attorney-client privileged

Only information exchanged when seeking legal advice is attorney-client privileged. This is especially tricky for companies who have their own “in-house” legal counsel who also offers business advice. Only the information exchanged that pertains to legal advice would be privileged. For example, was an organization chart of the company’s holdings “privileged” when provided to the company lawyer who also manages those assets for the business? Also, what if that lawyer disseminated that organization chart to accountants, property managers, or other non-lawyers? If they did, then that information is no longer attorney-client privileged.

Tip: If you have sensitive documents or information you want to keep in communication only with your lawyer, ask your attorney to identify the document as “Attorney-Client Privileged” and do not provide it to non-lawyers.

3. If the lawyer is on the crime, it is no longer attorney-client privileged

This tip comes compliments of the Michael Cohen case outlined at the beginning of this article. You may also think of “Breaking Bad’s” famed lawyer, Saul Goodman. Or maybe you’re “The Godfather” kind of person, and you think of the mafia lawyer, Tom Hagen. In the case of Goodman and Hagen, they were lawyers who were part of the criminal enterprise of their bosses. As a result, their records are not protected by attorney-client privilege.

Tip: While this third scenario is less likely applicable to our readers, I hope, it’s more fun to talk about than when your accountant can receive incriminating information.

Remember that not all information provided to your lawyer needs to be attorney-client privileged. Keep these tips in mind when communicating highly-sensitive information to your attorney, and let your attorney know before you provide the confidential information that you intend it to be privileged, so that they can ensure that your information is properly handled and so that non-lawyer third-parties are only involved when the privilege can be maintained.